In late November, 12 Republicans in the United States Senate voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, essentially codifying same-sex marriage throughout the land. By repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, 62 Senators - and hundreds of U.S. House Representatives - followed five Supreme Court justices in attempting to fundamentally redefine what marriage is. This last week on December 13th President Joe Biden signed the Act into law, complete with an after-event that celebrated everything but marriage. While religious freedom protections are built into the bill, there is reason to doubt they will hold for long.

When speaking about marriage and LGBT issues at large, it should be obvious that these are incredibly personal, sensitive, and emotionally-laden issues. Indeed, virtually every argument for gay "marriage" has its basis in one’s self-understanding of orientation or personal anecdotes of gay relatives. The long-standing arguments against homosexual acts - whether codified in a committed, celibate relationship or not - are not even considered.

As retiring Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman said, “Some people think that the world has moved on — that’s really not accurate as it relates to many parts of the country.” In other words, if you are not in favor of gay marriage, you are retrograde and slowing down social evolution. The world has moved on, you know, from the Bible and whatnot.

Given the highly-charged nature of the issue, it is not hard to imagine an unease with religious persons and institutions who will not want to play ball with this new definition of marriage. After all, a church, Christian university, or kosher bakery that rejects homosexual acts will be making judgments about a specific group of people at a deeply personal level and will not be interested in honoring what those people view as their state-sponsored human rights. Never mind that those rights can be honored by any other institution or business that is pro-LGBT; no, if even one cake baker doesn't applaud their method of sexual expression, the civil rights of all people are apparently in jeopardy and worthy of the Supreme Court's attention.

There is historical precedent for a religious institution losing its tax exempt status on similar grounds. The 1983 case Bob Jones University Vs. United States centered on whether a private religious organization had the right to prohibit interracial dating and marriage. After a decade-long battle with the IRS, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that to discriminate in such a way would so violate the social contract that demanded equal protection under the law that the University should lose its tax-exempt status.

I am not defending Bob Jones University. And yet, one can see how easily this case can become the precedent for any Christian institution that will face the same governmental scrutiny if and when they deny the "civil" or "human" rights of LGTB persons, especially now that they have the full weight of the law behind them. Again, the law that passed supposedly allows religious organizations to deny services on the grounds of conscience. But the more one's LGBT acts are seen to be synonymous with one's very sense of self, one's deeply-believed personal identity, is it hard to believe a future Senate will remove even those protections?

The question really becomes, "Is discrimination based on race the same thing as discrimination based on sexual behaviors?" The obvious answer to that is "No." For one's race, ethnicity, size, etc. are immutable characteristics. They are not commentaries on the nature of the person; they are mere descriptors. It was always both stupid and immoral to discriminate on the basis of race, wherever it has been done, in whatever direction it was done.

Is being LGBT as immutable as race? Again, the root of one’s LGBT identity is found in their actions, not immutable qualities. But because the LGBT community has done such a masterful job of equating actions with being, they claim that discrimination against them is the same as racial discrimination. You may not be surprised that many Black persons disagree.

The Fading Freedoms of those Who Dissent

Be that as it may, the LGBT community (to the degree such a "community" exists) has won the rhetorical battle. In 1996, only 26% of Americans supported gay marriage; today 70% of Americans support it.

So if we connect the dots, if the majority of Americans support gay marriage, and if supporting, protecting or advocating for it is seen as being on par with previous civil rights discrimination cases, are there any protections for religious institutions that you believe will last long? If so, on what grounds? Free speech isn't absolute, after all. And Bob Jones proved that religious freedom isn't absolute either. Again, I don't agree with Bob Jones University in that instance. But the question is, can religious freedom withstand the onslaught of public pressure, lawsuits, and threats from the IRS if and when Christians make prudential judgements on who should have sex with who?

What is the future? The easy targets will be those furthest from worship activities. The most protected acts will be the worship services of Christians. They will be seen as the most sincere and the most sacred for the longest amount of time. But para-church non-profits, schools, and universities will become easier targets. Businesses like bakers, wedding chapels, etc. will have even less protection.

Will the Church have the support of those in the pews and the public at large? Given that the average Christian attends church once a month, and that the proliferation of homosexuality means almost everyone has at least one gay family member who will bend a sympathetic ear, that seems unlikely. And if there is external pressure exerted on Christians that will cost them more time and money to pay taxes or for lawyers, the seed that is planted only in the rock will soon be scattered.

The Constitutional Crucible Ahead

With the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, churches should expect to face increasing pressure to abandon their traditional views of marriage, to say nothing of gender. If they don't, they should expect to pay the cost. In truth, sexual deviancy is not even the issue; it is just the presenting issue of rebellion against God, His Law, and His created order. And that is why this fight is a hill worth dying on: it is a denial of the Gospel itself to believe that there is such a thing as a “protected class” of sin.

So buckle up and expect the words of the Bob Jones case to become an oft-cited reference. The path forward will either go one of two ways: either LGBT persons will be granted the same rights as people of color because their acts and their being will become synonymous. Or we as Christians will retain our tenuous hold on civil rights as being the product of one's being distinguished from their actions. I am doubtful an increasingly pathos-driven society will care to make that distinction for much longer, or even could if it wanted to.

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